The Racial Scoring Gap on the New SAT Writing Test

The 2006 high school senior class was the first group of students who took the new SAT which includes a third score measuring a student’s ability to communicate through writing. Many of the nation’s leading colleges are skeptical that the writing test is useful in predicting how well a student will perform in college. A great many of the nation’s highest-ranked colleges and universities do not even consider an applicant’s score on the writing test as a factor in the admissions process. Others give less weight to the writing score than they do to an applicant’s results on the reading and mathematical sections of the SAT.

Aside from how colleges use the results, readers may be interested in knowing how black students fared on the new writing section of the SAT. The mean black score on the writing section in 2006 was 428. For whites, the mean score was 519. Therefore, the 91-point gap on the writing portion of the SAT is slightly smaller than the gap on the reading portion of the SAT and significantly smaller than the racial gap on the mathematics section of the SAT.

The fact that blacks score lower on the writing portion of the test is not surprising. The College Board’s data on students who took the SAT show that 67 percent of whites had taken high school courses in composition compared to 52 percent of blacks. Some 71 percent of whites and 61 percent of blacks had completed coursework in grammar.

Many observers believe that by design the writing component of the SAT was introduced to lessen the racial scoring gap on the SAT in order to deflect criticism of The College Board that the test is racially biased. It is probable that in some instances the people who score the new writing section will be able to detect the race of the writer by the vocabulary and subject matter of the student’s essay. There is then a suspicion in some quarters that the scorers of the test may be inclined to ‘give a break’ to black students. Therefore, it is suggested that the examination is graded on a curve that benefits blacks and Hispanics.